Steve Benen brought my attention to the fact that Rick Santorum is back with his own charming form of right wing populism. He’s pushing a standard conservative Christian line that “separation of church and state” is not in the US Constitution. And he offers up a twist, “But it was in the constitution of the former Soviet Union.” Get it?! People who don’t want their government mixed with a healthy dose of church are dirty, stinking commies!
This line of reasoning has things exactly backwards. In the 1950s, the United States went Christian crazy because the Soviet Union was our enemy. The Soviet Union was nominally atheistic, but that wasn’t why they were our enemy. Regardless, that’s how we got “under God” crammed into the Pledge of Allegiance. (Here’s an experiment to try: check out the rhythm of the pledge with and without “under God” and see if you don’t think the extra words make it more clumsy.) The communist government could have been just as awful with religion. In fact, it could have been worse. Just look at our “friend” Saudi Arabia.
Another aspect of this is the childish assumption that if we don’t like a particular country, we must hate everything about it. For example, it’s not enough to hate North Korea for its oppressive slave-labor approach to its people, we must hate its flag as well. (For the record, the North Korean flag is not great, but no worse than the flags of most countries.) The truth is that the Soviety Union had a great constitution — better than our own. But as we’ve seen throughout our own history, a constitution is only as good as the government that upholds it. Regardless, it was not the Soviet constitution that was the problem with that country.
Benen pointed out the obvious fact that the phrase “separation of church and state” was a convenient condensation of an idea in the Constitution. Leo Pfeffer put it well, “[I]t was inevitable that some convenient term should come into existence to verbalize a principle so widely held by the American people…” But people like Rick Santorum really are childish and silly. They want to point at the Constitution and yell, “See: that phrase is nowhere to be found!” The more rigorous of them will claim that the phrase came from a letter by Jefferson, which is true. But regardless, everything they know about the subject they learned from disgraced “historian” David Barton. These are not serious people.
The real problem with Santorum is that he thinks there are certain things that everybody agrees on. This is the assurance of a Christian who lives in a country that is nearly 80% Christian. I’m sure that Santorum would quickly change his mind if there was a Muslim awakening and the religion that would be allowed to mix so liberally with government was Islam. Benen asked what religion Santorum would use. After all, Santorum is a Catholic. But I’m sure that he would just want some kind of generic Christianity — not a specific denomination. And if that doesn’t show the total lack of a theological basis to American Christianity, I don’t know what does.
It reminds me of the attempt earlier this year to make the Bible the official state book of Louisiana. The legislators wanted it to be “any copy” at the same time they claimed it wasn’t a religious statement. There are dozens of English translations of the Bible. And that doesn’t even consider that there is no consensus as to what should constitute the Bible in its original languages. And the Orthodox Tewahedo Bible contains books that aren’t even in the traditional Bible. But efforts like this are designed to carve out a generic Christian identity.
When Rick Santorum and so many others like him try to push their religion on the rest of us, it really isn’t even about religion. They are just trying to oppress us with rules about how we ought to live our secular lives. It’s a great irony that he would bring up the Soviet constitution. He’s an authoritarian. Like Stalin before him, he wants to ignore our Constitution and its traditions to push his own limited view of what other people can think and do. But it isn’t surprising. Authoritarians have always hated other authoritarians who didn’t share their particular plan of oppression.